Category: Alumni

Meet Brett Hamlin, Engineering Fundamentals Interim Department Chair

Brett Hamlin, a Michigan Tech mechanical engineering alumnus, now leads the Department of Engineering Fundamentals

The College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University is pleased to announce Dr. Brett Hamlin as interim chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals.

Hamlin grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, and earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, both at Michigan Tech.

He first joined Michigan Tech as a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in 1998. He is a senior lecturer as well as previous assistant chair in the department.

Hamlin’s teaching interests include graphics, visualization, solid mechanics, design, and thermo sciences. His research interests include educational methods, spatial visualization, heat transfer, and biomechanics. 
 

“I’m excited about this opportunity. I hope to continue to work with the dedicated faculty of the department and continue to push the boundaries of excellence in engineering education.”

Brett Hamlin, Interim Chair, Engineering Fundamentals


“I am delighted that Dr. Hamlin will be Interim Chair of Engineering Fundamentals, joining the leadership team of the college,” added Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. “His passion for first year teaching and learning, and his administrative experience strongly prepare him for this leadership role.”

Hamlin serves as faculty advisor for Michigan Tech’s student-run GEAR Enterprise team. The focus of GEAR (General & Expedition Adventure Research) is to design, model, test, prototype, and manufacture a wide variety of goods and equipment used in recreational outdoor and commercial expedition endeavors. Hamlin was a longtime advisor for Michigan Tech’s SAE Baja Enterprise. He also serves as an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology—teaching Outdoor Emergency Care.

A former top Nordic skier, Hamlin is a senior level member of the Ski Patrol, qualified on both snowboard and Alpine skis. He is active in the local mountain biking scene, and on any given weekend you will find the entire Hamlin family out and about, either biking, skiing, hiking, camping, or climbing.

“I like to solve problems and brainteasers, and engineering is just like solving brainteasers in real life.”

Brett Hamlin

Previous department chair, Associate Professor Jon Sticklen, returns to faculty ranks. His focus has broadened to include STEM education research and teaching. He also plans to collaborate with Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive Learning and Sciences in its effort to develop a new undergraduate major, Human Factors.

Interested in meeting or talking with Prof. Brett Hamlin? Feel free to reach out via email or stop by his office at 112 Dillman.


Joe Foster: Through the Looking Glass! Geospatial Wizardry

Joe Foster shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, July 13 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What if you had a high-tech job, but spent your work day outside, enjoying nature and fresh air each day? If you like computing, and the great outdoors, you need to learn more about what it takes to become a geospatial engineer.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. He teaches courses in the elements of land surveying. He has served as a Principal for successful Land Surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects. “I’m also an old Michigan Tech alum, with a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry, and a second Bachelor’s degree in Surveying, both from Michigan Tech,” he notes.

Joe Foster is a professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Studying geospatial engineering is both an adventure and a learning experience, says Foster. A lot of learning⁠—and geospatial wizardry⁠—takes place outdoors, in the field.

“Surveyors are experts at measuring,” Foster explains. “A myriad of equipment have been used over the years to accomplish the task, tools of the trade, so to speak. Over time, Surveying has evolved to become more, known now as Geospatial Engineering.”

Surveyors, now known as Geospatial Engineers, measure the physical features of the Earth with great precision and accuracy, calculating the position, elevation, and property lines of parcels of land. They verify and establish land boundaries and are key players in the design and layout of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, cell phone towers, pipelines, and wind farms.

And they are in demand. “There is an ongoing need for Surveyors,” says Foster. “Jobs are open and can’t be filled fast enough. We have a great need for those with an interest and aptitude for the profession.”

All land-based engineering projects begin with surveying to locate structures on the ground,” says Foster. Numerous industries rely on the geospatial data and products that geospatial engineers provide. With advances in technology, the need is increasing, too⁠—from architectural firms, engineering firms, government agencies, real estate agencies, mining companies and others.

Geospatial engineering students at Michigan Tech use satellite technology GPS and GIS to determine locations and boundaries.

Out in the field, Geospatial Engineers peer “through the looking glass” using numerous tools. “Robotic total stations, GPS receivers, scanners, LiDAR, and UAVs only scratch the surface of what is available in the toolbox,” says Foster.

Three theodolites on campus at Michigan Tech

Advances in GPS technology have led to the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for mapping, as well as geospatial data capture and visualization technologies. Geospatial engineers also use virtual reality integration, Structure from Motion (a technique which utilizes a series of 2-dimensional images to reconstruct the 3-dimensional structure of a scene or object, similar to LiDAR), and unmanned aerial vehicle systems (drones). At Michigan Tech, students learn to use these tools, too.

Geospatial engineering students choose from two concentrations, says Foster. “Professional Surveying prepares students to become state-licensed professional surveyors. Students learn to locate accurate real property boundaries, conduct data capture of the natural/man-made objects on the Earth’s surface⁠—and conduct digital mapping for use in design or planning.” 

Geospatial engineers use drones, too.

The second concentration is Geoinformatics. “Students learn to manage large volumes of digital geo-information that can be stored, manipulated, visualized, analyzed, and shared,” he adds. “Students use more Geographic Information Science (GIS) tools, remote sensing, big data acquisition, and cloud computing.”

Do you love math + computing+ the great outdoors? Geospatial engineering combines all those things.

Once you’re working as a geospatial engineer, you could end up using both concentrations. “Land surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) are complementary tools,” he says.

Foster is excited about the growth of opportunities in the profession. During his own career, Foster worked as a principal for successful land surveying companies in both Minnesota and Michigan, directing and overseeing a wide range of projects, including boundary, county remonumentation, and cadastral (USDA-FS) retracement surveys; topographic, site planning, and flood plain surveys; mine surveys (surface and underground); plats and subdivisions; and both conventional and GPS control surveys. He’s managed contracts with the USDA-Forest Service, mining companies in Northern Minnesota, the State of Michigan, and more. 

Foster is also a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (MSPS). At Michigan Tech, he’s advisor to the Douglass Houghton Student Chapter of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (DHSC). Last year the group continued their tradition with the annual General Land Office (GLO) Workshop. Sponsored by DHSC and conducted by Pat Leemon, PS, retired U.S. Forest Surveyor from the Ottawa National Forest, it is a search/perpetuation of an original GLO corner. “That’s a once in a lifetime experience for a Surveyor,” says Foster.

Brockway Mountain, Copper Harbor, Keweenaw County. Getting there will take you on the highest above sea-level drive between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. The peak is the highest point in Michigan.

When did you first get into surveying? What sparked your interest?

I first got interested in Surveying while studying forestry at Michigan Tech.  Surveying was one of the courses in the program. That’s where I learned there could be an entire profession centered on surveying alone.  I was hooked.  It incorporated everything I had come to enjoy about forestry; working outside, using sophisticated equipment, drafting, and actually putting all the math I had learned to practical use. After earning my first bachelor’s degree in Forestry, I decided to get a second bachelor’s degree in Surveying and to pursue that as my career.  

Tell us about your growing up. What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Michigan and have worked in the forest product industry and surveying profession for over 25 years. Work has taken me to just about every corner of Northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Copper Country. I came to know my wife, Kate at Fall Camp at Alberta, at Michigan Tech’s Ford Forestry Center. We made our home in the Keweenaw, where we both have strong family ties.

Lake Superior is our first love, and one that we share. Here’s a little known fact….Keweenaw County has the highest proportion of water area to total area in the entire United States, with 541 square miles of land and 5,425 square miles of water. Nearly 90 percent of Keweenaw County is under the surface of Lake Superior!


Tony Pinar: How Do Machines Learn?

Tony Pinar shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, June 22 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Can machines learn, for real? Just how intelligent are they? Will machines and robots someday take over the world?

“Machine learning has become a popular tool in the digital world,” says Tony Pinar. “For people outside the field it seems almost magical that a machine could learn.”

Machine-learning algorithms do indeed “learn”, though it probably is not as glamorous as many people think. And not only that, says Pinar, they can be fooled.

ECE faculty member Dr. Tony Pinar earned his BS, MS and PhD in electrical engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

A lecturer and researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech, Pinar demystifies machine learning for students, and shows them how it’s done.

Pinar has even taught his own laptop a thing or two.

“Machine learning is actually a subfield of AI, or artificial intelligence,” says Pinar. “That’s a buzz word for simulating intelligence with a machine.”

Machine learning, he explains, is a collection of algorithms, biologically-inspired neural networks, that allow a computer to learn properties from observations, often with the goal of prediction.

“One pretty common misconception is that AI and machine learning are new. While the field has made leaps in the last few decades, some aspects of machine learning were developed in the 1800s, probably by Gauss,” says Pinar. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician, is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Pinar’s own research interests are in applied machine learning and data fusion. “It is exciting to me to watch the cutting edge move forward, see what sticks and what doesn’t, and observe how the directions of the field evolve,” he says. “It’s also rewarding to work on open-ended and novel problems that are in their infancy and at the cutting edge of today’s technology.”

Pinar is a member of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) at Michigan Tech. ICC provides a platform for innovative research and supports collaboration. The ICC’s 50 members represent 15 academic units at Michigan Tech.

It is exciting to me to watch the cutting edge move forward, see what sticks and what doesn’t, and observe how the directions of the field evolve.

Dr. Tony Pinar

“Often, the strongest solutions to be found are multidisciplinary, where people from many different fields work on the same problem,” notes Pinar.

As senior design coordinator for Michigan Tech’s ECE department, Pinar mentors students working on the final big design project of their senior year. Michigan Tech’s senior design program is more like a first job than a last class, and many projects are sponsored by industry.

What does working on senior design look like? It looks like testing, iterating, compiling, and teaming. This group of ME, EE, and CpE students is working on the SICK LiDAR challenge. They they ended up winning an Honorable Mention in the nationwide competition.

One senior design team that Pinar advised this past spring⁠—a multidisciplinary team comprised of students majoring in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer engineering⁠—competed in the TiM$10K Challenge, a national innovation and design competition. Student teams were invited to participate from 20 different universities by Sick USA. Sick AG, based in Waldkirch, Germany, is a global manufacturer of sensors and sensor solutions.

For the competition, teams were supplied with a 270-foot SICK LiDAR sensor, the TIM, and accessories, and challenged to solve a problem, create a solution or new application.

The Tech team members — Brian Parvin, Kurtis Alessi, Alex Kirchner, David Brushaber and Paul Allen — earned Honorable Mention (fourth place overall) for their project, Evaluating Road Markings (the Road Stripe Evaluator). The innovative product aims to help resolve issues caused by poor road markings.

“Road stripes around the world require frequent maintenance,” Pinar explains. “That’s because fading road stripes cause fatal car accidents and other safety concerns. The team’s software and device can be mounted on police cars in order to cover a wide region. And instead of repainting all road stripes, road crews can become discerning, learning which roads need repainting, and focus only on those, potentially saving a fortune each year on paint and maintenance.”

“Each year, fading road stripes cause fatal car accidents,” says Pinar. “This senior design team’s software and device the Road Stripe Evaluator, could potentially save lives.”

SICK asked each team in the competition to submit a video and paper for judging upon completion of its project. A panel of judges decided the winning submissions based on creativity and innovation, ability to solve a customer problem, commercial potential, entrepreneurship of the team, and reporting.

While the team’s prototype does not depend on machine learning, the project may continue in upcoming semester. That way, another senior design team will be able to build a machine learning solution into the prototype, notes Pinar.

In April, the team also won an Honorable Mention for the Road Stripe Evaluator project at Michigan Tech’s Design Expo, competing with 50+ other senior design teams.

How did you first get interested in engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was raised near the small town of Trout Creek, Michigan. I’ve always been obsessed with figuring out how things work. I was also interested in electricity from a young age, thanks to my dad, who had me help him to wire houses as an electrician. These led me to pursue electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, where I learned EE was so much more than power distribution.

You earned your BS, MS and PhD at Michigan Tech, all in electrical engineering. What kind of projects did you work on as a student?

I had the opportunity to work on many interesting projects as a student, both applied and research-based. As an undergrad I contributed to projects such as a solar-tracking solar panel, a Tesla coil, and an industry-sponsored project concerning wireless power transfer. In graduate school I worked on projects involving autonomous underwater gliders, 3D metal printers, and explosive hazard detection using ground penetrating radar; my dissertation was focused on the algorithms I developed and used for much of the explosive hazard detection problem.

What do you like most about teaching electrical engineering?

Teaching is like a puzzle where one may have to take a difficult concept, reduce it to digestible pieces, and deliver them to fresh minds in a way to maximize understanding and insight. That challenge is what drives me to be a better teacher. It keeps me on my toes, forces me to constantly identify holes in my knowledge, and drives me to continuously strive to learn new things.

Can you tell us about your life now? Any hobbies?

I live in Hancock with my wife, Noelle, and our two small boys, Malcolm and Dexter. If I’m not spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw with my family, you will probably find me playing guitar or tinkering with a side project.

Learn More

232: Road Marking Reflectivity Evaluator


Brad King: Space, Satellites and Students

Pictured: the Auris signal trace, soon to be explained by Dr. Lyon (Brad) King on Husky Bites.

Lyon (Brad) King shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 18 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Oculus deployed! In June 2019 Michigan Tech alumnus and Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems Engineer Jesse Olson, left, celebrates with Aerospace Enterprise advisor Brad King. King’s son Jack was also on hand for the momentous occasion of the launch.

Turning dreams into reality is a powerful motivator for Lyon (Brad) King. He’s the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and leader of Michigan Tech Aerospace—a collection of research, development, and educational labs dedicated to advancing spacecraft technology.

King specializes in spacecraft propulsion — and the launching of student careers. He mentors a large team of graduate students in his research lab, the Ion Space Propulsion Lab, where teams develop next-generation plasma thrusters for spacecraft. Off campus, at the MTEC SmartZone, King is cofounder and CEO of the fast-growing company, Orbion Space Technology.

As the founder and faculty advisor of Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft, too. One of the team’s student-built satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2021, and a third (Auris) now in process.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies.”

Professor Lyon (Brad) King, Michigan Tech

King has served as the Enterprise advisor ever since a couple of students came to him with the idea to form a team nearly two decades ago. “My current role now is more that of an outside evaluator,” he says. “The team has taken on a life of its own.”

Like all Enterprise teams at Michigan Tech, Aerospace Enterprise is open to students in any major. “It’s important for students to learn how to work in an interdisciplinary group,” says King. “In the workplace, they will never be on a team where every member has the same expertise. To design, build, manage and operate a satellite requires mechanical, electrical, computer science, physics, materials, everything — it really crosses a lot of boundaries and prepares them for a career.”

Adds King: “Michigan Tech has a history and reputation for hands-on projects, particularly its Enterprise Program. Our students don’t just write papers and computer programs. They know how to turn wrenches and build things. That’s been deeply ingrained in the University culture for years.” 

Last, but not least: “Aerospace Enterprise has a leadership and management hierarchy that is self-sustaining,” says King. “Current leaders are constantly working to mentor their successors so we have continuity from year-to-year.” 

“Dr. King provides excellent mentoring and high-level direction, but does not give students all the answers. It’s up to the students to figure it out. We work in small teams, which forces us to take on more responsibility. We’re thrown off the deep end. It’s hard, but worth it.”

Sam Baxendale, spoken as a former student. He’s now an engineer at Orbion Space Technologies
The Aerospace Enterprise team at Michigan Tech enjoys some well-deserved downtime at McLain State Park on Lake Superior.

The New Space Era

Commercialization is driving aerospace expansion in Michigan and across the nation. “We were ahead of it,” says King. “We certainly were feeding it and played a part in causing it. MTU’s products — which are our graduates — are out there, making this happen.” Aerospace Enterprise alumni are engineers, managers, technology officers and research scientists in a diverse array of aerospace-related industries and institutions, from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and NASA to SpaceX, both startups and major manufacturers. King himself has hired several of his former students at Orbion Space Technology.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me,” says Lyon (Brad) King, Henes Professor of Space Systems at Michigan Technological University

Q: When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

A: I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: I was born and raised just north of Houghton (yes, there actually is some habitable environment north of Houghton). I received my BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Michigan. I spent time traveling around the country working at NASA in Houston, NIST in Boulder, and realized that all of my personal hobbies and proclivities were centered around the geography and climate of northern Michigan. I returned in 2000 and began my career as a professor at MTU. I enjoy fishing, boating, hockey, and spent more than 15 years running my dogsled team all over the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Michigan Tech’s Three Student-Built Satellites

OCULUS-ASR, a microsatellite now in orbit, provides new info to the Air Force. “It is the first satellite mission dedicated to helping telescope observatories understand what they are imaging using a cooperative target. “It’s a very capable little vehicle. There’s a lot packed into it.”

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of Stratus, a miniaturized satellite developed by the team. It will be launched from the International Space Station in March 2021.

Not hard to see how CubeSats get their name. Stratus is a 3U spacecraft, which means it’s composed of three units. This photo was taken in fall 2019.

STRATUS, a miniaturized satellite, will image atmospheric clouds to reconcile climate models. It’s funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. STRATUS will be carried to the International Space Station inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule by a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon will dock to the ISS where STRATUS will be unloaded by the crew. STRATUS will then be placed in the Kibo Module’s airlock, where the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System robotic arm will move the satellite into the correct position and deploy it into space. All this on March 21. Stay tuned!

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of its newest microsatellite, Auris, now in the works.

AURIS, a microsatellite, is designed to monitor and attribute telecommunications signals in a congested space environment. Funding comes from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL)’s University Nanosatellite Program.

Huskies in Space

Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise team designed their own logo.

Learn more about the team and its missions on Instagram and Facebook.

Find out how to join.

Read more about Aerospace Enterprise in Michigan Tech News:

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student Satellite Set to Launch in 2021

Enterprise at MTU Launches Spacecraft—and Careers

Countdown. Ignition. Liftoff. Huskies in Space!

Mission(s) AccomplishedMichigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit


Engineering Alumni Activity Summer 2020

Gregory LeFevre
Gregory LeFevre

Greg LeFevre, BS ENVE alumnus, received the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President’s Early Career Scholar of the Year Award. LeFevre and his team study how non-point pollutants change in water and what that means for ecosystems and human health.

Mufazzal Hossain
Mufazzal Hossain

Mufazzal Hossain, CEE MS alumnus, was voted the District Leader in Assembly District 38 Part B, making him the first Bangladeshi elected Democratic District Leader in the district and in Queens, New York.

Todd Fewins
Todd Fewins

Michigan Tech alumnus Todd Fewins ’92, was quoted in the story “Medical device manufacturer finds, grows skilled talent in the U.P.” in Crain’s Detroit Business. Fewins has a BS in mechanical engineering. In 2011 he was recruited by a former boss of his at Dura to open a new facility for Precision Edge in Boyne City. Five years later he was named company president.

Jon Zander
Jon Zander

Michigan Tech alumnus Jon Zander has been promoted to senior project manager at Stevens Construction, headquartered in Fort Meyers, Florida. The story was covered in Gulfshore Business. A Michigan Technological University graduate in civil engineering, Zander is a Qualified Stormwater Management Inspector.

Margaret Brumm
Margaret Brumm

The online presentation “Invent Your Story,” by Michigan Tech alumna Margaret Brumm at the Peter White Library in Marquette, was previewed by the Marquette Mining Journal. Brumm is a patent attorney and member of the State Bar of Michigan. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Michigan Technological University and her juris doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School.

Stan Kaczmarek
Stan Kaczmarek

Michigan Tech alumnus Stan Kaczmarek has been promoted to president of Gundlach Champion, Inc. in Iron Mountain. The story was covered by WLUC TV6. Kaczmarek earned a degree in Civil Engineering from Michigan Tech.

Kevin Ballinger
Kevin Ballinger

Michigan Tech alumnus Kevin Ballinger was named CEO of Aldevron. The story was covered in Benzinga. Ballinger holds a BS in mechanical engineering. Headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota, Aldevron is a leading biotechnology company that develops and manufactures plasmid DNA, proteins, enzymes, antibodies, and other biologicals.

Eric Showalter
W. Eric Showalter

Michigan Tech civil and environmental engineering alumnus Eric Showalter (BS, MS), has been named the 2020 Outstanding Educator by the Associated General Contractors of America. The story appeared in AGC. Showalter is a non-tenure track faculty member, with the rank of Teaching Professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Mike Paddock
Mike Paddock

Civil and Environmental Engineering alumnus, Mike Paddock, published “Bridging Barriers” about how one community changed its future with help from Engineers Without Borders USA volunteers.

Tor J. S. Anderzen
Tor J. S. Anderzen

Tor J. S. Anderzen has been elected a Governor of Region 8 of the American Society of Civil Engineers. His three year term starts on October 1, 2020. He was also named an ASCE Fellow earlier this year. Anderzen, a senior aviation engineer at HDL Engineering Consultants LLC, holds a BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Michigan Tech.

Eric Charette
Eric Charette

Michigan Tech alumnus Eric J. Charette was featured in the story “Grid modernization means adapting and evolving to meet the challenges of the future,” in Power Grid International. Charette graduated from Michigan Tech with a BS in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Systems. He serves as Executive Technical Manager of Business Development for Utilities with Hexagon.

Audrey Yazdanparast
Audrey Yazdanparast

An article by Timothy Havens (CC) and Sakineh “Audrey” Yazdanparast (’19 PhD electrical engineering), “Linear Time Community Detection by a Novel Modularity Gain Acceleration in Label Propagation,” has been accepted for publication in the journal IEEE Transactions on Big Data. The paper presents an efficient approach for detecting self-similar communities in weighted graphs, with applications in social network analysis, online commodity recommendation systems, user clustering, biology, communications network analysis, etc.

HongWen Zhang
HongWen Zhang

Michigan Tech alumnus HongWen Zhang will give a presentation at the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) Packaging Technology Integration Group (TIG) digital meeting on Wednesday. Zhang is R&D Manager of Alloy Group. The story was featured on I-Connect 007. Zhang has a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical physical chemistry from Central South University of China, a master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Science, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and a PhD in materials science and engineering from Michigan Tech.

Steve Thorburn
Steve Thorburn

Michigan Tech alumnus Steve Thorburn is the recipient of the Fred Dixon Service in Education Award from the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA). The story was covered by AV Network. Thorburn had dual degrees in electrical engineering and technical theatre.

Michigan Tech alumnus Charles L. Marshall, BS electrical engineering, has been named vice president of Transmission Planning for ITC Holdings Corp. The story was covered in Yahoo Finance and  Benzinga. With a longstanding career at ITC, Mr. Marshall’s responsibilities have ranged from regulatory policy and stakeholder relations to project engineering and business unit planning.

Laura and Nate Gentry
Laura and Nate Gentry

Michigan Tech Alumni Laura and Nate Gentry ’05, were mentioned in the article “‘Heal the Zeel’ campaign rallies community support” in Rapid Growth. The couple owns Tripelroot Restaurant and Brewpub in Zeeland. They have created a menu of “Stay at Home” specials that incorporates ingredients grown by local suppliers. Nate has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Laura has a BA in Liberal Arts.

Greg Ives
Greg Ives

Greg Ives hasn’t stepped foot on Michigan Tech’s campus since receiving his bachelor’s degree in December 2003. But during the coronavirus pandemic, Ives, a Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series crew chief for Alex Bowman, suddenly found the time to think back on his days in Houghton. Auto racing is the science of engineering coupled with the art and skill of driving. Ives, who studied mechanical engineering at Tech, said he’s been overseeing both elements of his Hendrick Motorsports team while working from home.


John Gierke: How the Rocks Connect Us

Pictured: Hungarian Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Credit: Jessica Rich, a Michigan Tech graduate and member of the MTU Geology Club

John Gierke shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 11 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

John Gierke stands with water behind him, on the shore of Portage Canal.
Water was John Gierke’s first love growing up. Now he is Professor and Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, specializing in hydrogeology. Here he stands at the shore of Portage Canal, on campus.

A self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks,” John Gierke chairs the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) at Michigan Technological University. He’s also an alumnus, earning a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

Q: How do the rocks connect us?

A: The geology of the Keweenaw and Western Upper Peninsula is quite unique and different than the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. The geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place. While geologists are knowledgeable in identifying rocks, their truest natures are also wrapped in a yearning to be outdoors, exceptional observation skills, and insatiable curiosity to understand Earth processes. The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us–and shaped our landscapes–are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.

Q: When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

A: I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: Growing up I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River throughout the year. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring-summer-fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the EUP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). I now live on a blueberry farm that is open to the public in August for U-Pick. I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer.

Want to know more about Husky Bites? Read about it here.


Husky Bites: Join Us for Supper This Summer (Mondays at 6)!

A real Husky Dog sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth, with a plate and bowl full of dog biscuits in front of it The dog is wearing a red and black checked flannel shirt, and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses

Craving some brain food? Join Dean Janet Callahan and a special guest each Monday at 6 p.m. EST for a new, 20-minute interactive Zoom webinar from the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University, followed by Q&A. Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity). All are welcome. Get the full scoop and register⁠—it’s free⁠—at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The special guests: A dozen engineering faculty have each volunteered to present a mini lecture for Husky Bites. They’ll weave in a bit of their own personal journey to engineering, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Callahan. “We’re aiming to make it very interactive, with a “quiz” (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. “Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. We are hoping entire families will enjoy it,” she adds. “We have prizes, too, for near perfect attendance!”

Topics include: Space, Satellites, and Students; Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots; A Quieter Future (Acoustics); Geospatial Wizardry; Color-Changing Potions and Magical Microbes; Scrubbing Water, There’s Materials Science and Engineering, in my Golf Bag, Biomedical Engineering the Future, How Do Machines Learn, Robotics, Math in Motion, and more. Get the full scoop and register (it’s free) at mtu.edu/huskybites

The series kicks off on Monday, May 11 with a session from GMES professor and chair John Gierke, a self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks.”

In his Husky Bites session, “How the Rocks Connect Us,” Gierke will talk about how the geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. “The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place,” he says. “The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us and shaped our landscapes are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.” Gierke was born in the EUP (the Soo, aka Sault Sainte Marie) and graduated from Michigan Tech. He will provide practical explanations for why the mines are oriented as they are, where water is more prevalent—and the geological features that lead to waterfalls. You can read all about it here.

Other guests on Husky Bites include engineering faculty L. Brad King, Gordon Parker, Rebecca Ong, Guy Meadows, Andrew Barnard, Tony Pinar, Daisuke Minakata, Jeremy Bos, Joe Foster, Smitha Rao, and Steve Kampe.

Want to see the full schedule? Just go to mtu.edu/huskybites. You can register from there, too.


Did You Sign Your Name on This Door?

Now, I live close to campus, in a stately banker’s home on Houghton Avenue.

We bought Mrs. Frim’s house (Mrs. Frimodig) in 2018. At one point, the home had been famously rented out to Michigan Tech alumni, many who signed their names on the attic door. Widowed after Mr. Frim unexpectedly passed at an early age, Mrs. Frim earned a living in this way.

Roger Smith, an engineering alumnus who grew up in Houghton, weeded for Mrs. Frim as a young man. I met him at Reunion 2018; he relayed to me that “She had a nice side garden in the south-east backyard – with lots of gladiolas. I spent a lot of hours toiling there…at 15-25 cents an hour!”

Sadly, that poor side garden has turned into goutweed heaven—an invasive species. I started attacking it yesterday. I read that I can “exhaust it,” or dig it up! So I exhausted myself digging it up and only made a small start; it will take the next two years to recover that patch of garden. Ha-ha, says the goutweed…. 

Did any of you happen to carve your name on the attic door? If so, please let me know! Take a look at all five panels, for a closer look. Maybe you’ll see someone you know!

If you find your name, or know more about this door, please email me. I would love to hear the stories; callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech




Earth Day Continues! All are Welcome at these Copper Country (social-distance friendly) Special Events

Historical sign once hung on posts at the entrance to the city of Houghton, Michigan that says, Welcoome to the Copper country. You are now breathing the purest most vitalizing air on earth!
Courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives

There are still many Earth Day events coming up in Copper Country, and no matter where you live on this Earth, you’re invited. All are welcome.

  • Get Some Fresh Air: Nature is Open for Business
    Now through May 10 — Self-guided walk featuring Earth Day artwork from Houghton Elementary 4th grade students at Keweenaw Land Trust Paavola Wetlands. Can’t get there in person? Here’s the video tour.
  • Planet of the Humans
    April 21 and beyond: View “Planet of the Humans” (90 min.)  The film takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and giving in to corporate interests of Wall Street.
  • Invasive Plant Removal Challenge
    Now through June 20 — Stewardship Network Spring Invasive Plant Removal Challenge. Pull invasive species from your yard, natural area, anywhere. Submit location, number of people, and weight of invasive plants removed.
  • Great Lakes Bioblitz!
    Now through – May 20 — Great Lakes Bioblitz in your Backyard. Community members, families, and students across the Great Lakes states and Ontario are invited to participate in finding and identifying as many wild, living things as possible in a specific area (backyards and other outdoor spaces) during the next month
  • How Some are Turning the Stay at Home Order into a Positive Experience
    Saturday (April 25) from 6-8 p.m. — UPEC 2020 Celebrate the U.P. Presentations will be available later on YouTube. Speakers include Monica Lewis-Patrick, We The People of Detroit; Sarah Green, International Climate Action; Angie Carter, Western UP Food Systems Council, and several more. The event will wrap up with short videos on how some have turned the Stay at Home order into a positive experience.
  • What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables
    April 28, 7-8 p.m. — “What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables?” with Eagle Waste & Recycling owner, Alan Alba, and sponsored by Copper Country Recycling Initiative.
  • Native Plant Symposium: Monarch Butterflies
    April 30, 7 p.m. Native Plant Symposium Part 2, Sue Trull, botanist for the Ottawa Nat. Forest, will present “Monarchs & Milkweeds—All Hands-on Deck,” and “Using Native Plants to Support Pollinators” by Jackie Manchester-Kempke, of Houghton, an extension master gardener. Register here.
  • Book Club: Nature’s Best Hope
    May 7, 7 p.m.— Keweenaw Land Trust’s Natural History. Book Club discussion of Doug Tallamy’s “Nature’s Best Hope” via Zoom. (Password: 703851)
  • Five things you can keep out of the landfill:
    June 27  — (Stay tuned) The previously scheduled Waste Reduction Drive for Earth Day, sponsored by Michigan Tech’s student-run Sustainability House, will be rescheduled. In the meantime, keep collecting Styrofoam containers, plastic bottle caps, batteries and foil lined granola and energy bar wrappers. Read how they can be recycled here.

Mechanical Engineer Turned Fine Artist: Gary Johnson (Part 2)

Gary Johnson, a Michigan Tech alumnus in Fayetteville Arkansas, tells the story of his second career: “It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look, and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work.”

When it comes to the abstract, my inspiration develops as I develop the painting. I always try to utilize the design principles of good balance between geometric and curvilinear shapes, development of value change throughout the painting, and a good use of complementary colors. But it’s all in the eye of the beholder whether you like it or not.

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson
Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson

Other times I get inspired by just items around the house that we’ve collected over the years. It dawned on me that I hadn’t painted a still life piece in quite a while, so I started looking at some china pieces we collected and thought they’d make a wonderful painting.

Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson
Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson

Sometimes it isn’t so much that inspiration finds me, as much as it is that someone commissions a painting. Now that is the ultimate compliment: when someone has seen my work and trusts me to paint something they treasure. This requires a lot of careful consideration on my part to make a determination if I’m up to the task. First, I need a good photograph—not some pixelated picture, but a really good piece I can blow up as if I were right there to see it all with my own eyes. If I can take the photograph myself, so much the better as I like to take advantage of any shadows cast. Here’s one–a portrait of a dog named Maximus.

Portraits are difficult. My advice is this: always make sure you get the eyes right. Everything else from there will work out.

Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016
Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016

People ask where I paint. We designed our home with a studio in it. This makes it so much more convenient for me as I can wander up anytime during the day or night to work on a painting.

My studio is on the second floor of our house. When I decide I’m too old to walk up and down those stairs (18 in all, and yes, I counted them) it can easily be converted into a master suite or a mother in-law-suite as it has a closet and bathroom next to it. After all, watercolorists need water and a place to rinse out the brushes among other things. It’s approximately 300 square feet—a comfortable size to house my good old-fashioned drafting table, flat files, and shelving units needed to support my habit.

The artist in his studio.
The artist in his studio.

I’m sometimes asked about my outlook on life as an artist. Is it different than my outlook as an engineer/business executive? To be honest, it isn’t much different. I suppose now that I’m retired, I want to be sure I’m alive long enough to achieve some of my long-range goals. Goal setting is something I’ve always done, so not much change there.

I don’t have a concern about what my next job or position might be now that I’m a retired artist. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference from the working world. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.

Snack Time, Gary Johnson
Snack Time, Gary Johnson

Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have. That’s when I usually put the brushes aside and start to read and study another person’s work. It’s also good to make a change in my daily activity as well, to not get stuck in a rut, so to speak. Variety is the spice of life and that is true for artists as well. Change it up. Go fishing. Get outside. You’d be surprised how quickly new ideas can pop up to jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again.

Am I a perfectionist? Not really. I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving. When I make an error, I consider it a happy accident and work around it, as opposed to trying to do it over again, or trying to fix it. Neither work well in watercolor painting.

Personality-wise, I’m pretty much an optimist and a fairly outgoing person. I suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while managing companies and people. I enjoy making new contacts and I enjoy giving back to my community. That’s why I’ve become a teacher of art, and a leader in our art organization here in Fayetteville. I hope I’ve influenced people to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. I’m still working in it, although people are starting to recognize my abstract pieces more and more as I display them at galleries in the area. More people now say they can easily recognize a piece as one of mine.

A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson
A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson

Realistically, I think my style is still evolving, growing into a less-structured, photographic type of painting—a looser style that I personally love. It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work, as opposed to making it obvious.

Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson
Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson

I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me at garyj357@yahoo.com.

Gary

Coming soon: Part 3 of Gary’s guest blog. Learn how to make your own beautiful watercolor pigments (from rocks), and read his sage adviceboth to young people starting out, and those about to move into retirement. Did you happen to miss Part 1? Here’s the link. Want to see more of Gary’s paintings? Find them at garyjohnsonfineart.com